Militant Longshoreman No. 16

Militant Longshoreman

No. 16,  February 7, 1986



When the Coast Longshore Caucus meets February 10 the hottest issue on the agenda will be the substandard contract for longshore work signed by the International with a northwest barge operator. This contract grants not only substandard wages and manning but provides that ILWU Inland Boatmen – not registered longshoremen – will perform the work. Local 10 delegates are under instructions from the membership to oppose this and any substandard contracts for longshore work. The militant posturing on the part of Stan Gow, who put up the motion, and the brothers who spoke passionately on substandard contracts covers up the fact that they have no program to combat the growing threat to our job jurisdiction.


At the recent Longshore Division meeting in San Francisco a Local officer from the Northwest reported that there are 20 non-ILWU barge loading operations in the Puget Sound area; several ships had been loaded without ILWU longshoremen, and a non-union tug company from the Gulf is now operating in a big way in the off-shore barge trade on the Pacific coast.

In recent years dozens of non-ILA stevedoring operations have sprung up on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Some 20 non-union stevedoring companies have become so bold that recently they demanded permission by port authorities to carry their scab operations into publicly owned port facilities threatening to put them out of business if they weren’t allowed to compete directly for ILA jobs. In Baltimore and Houston longshoremen fought pitched battles with cops to protect their jobs.


The strategy of the International to protect our jobs is best revealed by peaceful “area standards” picketing of Seaways in Seattle combined with their equally ineffectual legal actions. Now President Jimmy Herman has come up with a new gimmick – try to establish jurisdiction by using the IBU (Inland Boatmen) to negotiate substandard contracts for longshore work. This strategy will prove to be at least as much of a failure as the strategy of signing substandard CFS contracts. So, who has an alternative? When Brother Herman challenged the officers of the longshore, clerks, and walking bosses locals to propose another strategy no one responded. Judging by their performance at previous Caucuses it doesn’t look like any of the delegates will propose anything better than a “head in the sand” attitude. The best we can expect is a lot of rhetoric about how undemocratic President Herman was to sign this contract without Caucus agreement.


There’s only one way to defend our jobs against non-union attacks; a strategy of mobilizing the full strength of the union in mass picket lines and of building solidarity actions of all maritime unions to smash non-union employers and organize the unorganized seamen and longshoremen. The 1983 shut down of Levin’s in Richmond by Bay Area ILWU and the Columbia River longshore mass mobilization against a non-union barge operation in Vancouver, Washington, show that waterfront workers aren’t afraid to do what is necessary to defend the union, even when it means defying court injunctions. We must organize our forces, select the weakest non-union barge company and put him out of business; then move on to the next weakest. By the time we get to Seaways we could be on a real labor crusade that would draw in thousands of maritime unionists and convince the unorganized that the trade union movement can protect them.

In his December 15 Dispatcher editorial on organizing Jimmy Herman accepts as an unchangeable fact that under the present laws unions can’t protect workers from employer firing and victimizing when they try to organize. He believes that unionized workers won’t fight even to protect their own job jurisdiction and conditions, let alone join in mass picket lines and secondary boycotts to defend other workers. This cynical, defeatist and wrong-headed view about workers ignores the historic lessons of the labor movement which showed that the broader and more militant labor struggles become, the more workers were encouraged to join in defending their own and other workers struggles. The last few years have seen a series of heroic desperate battles by workers – struggles isolated and betrayed by the union bureaucrats.


Militant Longshoreman is making no endorsements in this election. While there are a number of honest rank and filers running for various offices who are loyal to the union and want to defend their conditions, none of these brothers are running on a program which commits them to a militant class-struggle strategy – a program that shows they won’t be confused or misled by the narrowly selfish, short-sighted and fearful arguments that have dominated union politics for too long.

Brother Stan Gow’s continued refusal to run on a program reflects his disorientation and opportunism. Two incidents reveal Stan’s irresponsibility. In the November meeting Stan made a motion to defend the striking Chilean Longshoremen by refusing to handle Chilean cargo. During and since our 11-day boycott of South African cargo in 1984 Brother Stan Gow has viciously attacked Howard Keylor for playing a leading role in that cargo boycott, arguing that only a ship boycott  is supportable, even at a public meeting in Europe last year. But inconsistency is not the worst aspect of Brother Gow’s actions. He got up and made the motion without even trying to build up support in the local by getting brothers and sisters to second and speak on the motion. We can only conclude that he and the Militant Caucus are just interested in making the record, that they don’t really believe that longshoremen will act militantly in solidarity with their working class brothers.

When Gow and Keylor were collaborators Stan struggled hard to defuse conflict between our local and other ILWU locals. He understood that we must have unity  between waterfront locals. Only the PMA profits when clerks and longshoremen fight each other. At the January membership meeting Brother Gow joined in on the cheap demagogic attacks on the settlement between Locals 10 and 34 pertaining to extra clerks work, even though he knows how important it is to continue to build ILWU unity.

This leaflet is already too long. The Militant Longshoreman will be issued more frequently in 1986.